Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat 2017

OSWIECIM, POLAND. Bernie Glassman and The Zen Peacemakers are returning for the 22nd year to the old site of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland, for a Bearing Witness Retreat. Bernie Glassman began the annual Bearing Witness Retreats in 1996, with help from Eve Marko and Andrzej Krajewski. They have taken place annually every year since then. Much has been written about these annual retreats; at least half a dozen films have been made about them in various languages. They are multi-faith and multinational in character, with a strong focus on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action.

Learn More

Join Free Information Session: 2017 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

On September 20th 2017 at 1pm EST we will hold a free online teleconference with one of the Auschwitz retreat’s Spirit Holders Roshi Barbara Wegmueller from Switzerland, and with Rami Efal, executive director of Zen Peacemakers International of USA/Israel. They will be available to answers questions about the container and content of the retreat, any logistical and personal concerns or anxieties that may affect your participating in this event.

Learn More

Everything Has To Do With Us: Roshi Collande Reflects on Bearing Witness at Auschwitz

HOLZKIRCHEN, GERMANY. This November, 2017, Zen Peacemakers are returning to the concentration camp site at Auschwitz for the twenty-second time. Read retreat Spirit Holder Cornelius V. Collande’s reflection on entering Auschwitz’s “big not knowing.”

Learn More

The Face I See Everywhere: Why Barbara Wegmüller Returns to Auschwitz

“There is the face of a woman, looking at me, ever since I met her eyes for the first time. She is looking at me on one of the pictures in one of the memorial halls in Auschwitz I, the original camp. The photo shows her as she is waiting with a group of women and her children at the selection site. Her face shows disgust, fear, distress, and she seems to know what will happen to her and her children as she looks into the camera.”

Barbara Wegmüller, a Zen Peacemaker Roshi and Bearing Witness retreat Spiritholder (facilitator), responds to the question of why she’s been coming back to bear witness at Auschwitz for nearly 20 years.

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Roland

At the site of gruesome human medical experiments, Sensei Dr. Roland Yakushi Wegmüller has been serving and ministering the participants of the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat for the past 14 years. In this personal essay, Roland reflects on his role as the retreat’s doctor, the healing and kindness in the old camp, and the rich experiences and connections he’s had with his patients there. Deutsch nach Englisch.

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Russell

This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996. In this post, Russell Delman writes a letter called “What Remains” about his experience during the 2016 Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.

Learn More

Standing People, Rooted People: Peacemaking Among the Indigenous Cultures of Southern Africa and Turtle Island

Drawing experiences from different corners of the world, two ZPO members, one from the United States, Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt and one from Finland, Mikko Ijäs, share their stories of being welcomed by #FirstNations and the #indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (Northern America) and Southern Africa and how their appreciation of #peacemaking was affected by encountering these rich wisdom cultures and the individuals that embodied them.

Learn More

“DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU IT DOESN’T MATTER!”

Gen. Wesley Clark Jr., middle, and other veterans kneel in front of Leonard Crow Dog during a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo by Josh Morgan, Huffington Post By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko, Zen Peacemaker Order   I met a friend of my brother’s the other day at a Jerusalem café. He told me that he had taken part in a convocation honoring Elie Wiesel at the Hebrew University, and that the Chief Rabbi of Rumania was there and told the following story: In my position I’ve visited many small Rumanian towns and villages which once had a large population of Jews but which are now empty of Jews after the Holocaust. In one such town I hear something strange. There is an old synagogue there, abandoned and unused since World War II. But every Friday night, when the Sabbath begins, the lights go on in the synagogue and they go off on Saturday night, at the end of the Sabbath. I decided to look into it, and discovered that a goy, a non-Jew, enters the abandoned synagogue every Friday evening and puts the Sabbath prayer books by every single empty seat. On the Sabbath morning he comes in again and puts prayer shawls by each seat. He comes back on Saturday night, returns the prayer shawls and prayer books, and turns off the lights. He has done that for many years. I told Elie Weisel about this long ago, and he told me to support this man as much as possible so that he could continue to do this work. When I heard this story I immediately remembered Bernie’s and my 1996 visit with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, to ask him for his blessing for the Zen Peacemakers’ retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Reb Zalman said that he was all for it, only the retreat had to be done for the sake of the souls there. I vividly remember driving back and pondering his answer: What souls? Weren’t the dead dead? Beside, as a Buddhist I didn’t believe in souls. We’d asked him for his blessing for a single retreat, not knowing that this retreat...

Learn More

2016 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz Retreat Summary

‘This [Auschwitz retreat] is an opportunity to love, and to give up fear.’ Bernie called, spirited yet tender, from the middle of the auditorium on his way to his quarters after delivering his opening remarks for the 2016 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.   He was surrounded by eighty participants from seventeen countries who have traveled seas and land to participate. Forty-five of them, an unprecedented number, had come to Auschwitz for the first time with the Zen Peacemakers. In the following five days, through rain, snow and sunshine, we shared time at the camp, visiting the barracks of children, women and men in places where they spent their last nights and days, we dedicated ceremonies at the remains of the crematoriums and ash fields where they were killed and disposed of, and we sat silently at the selection site where this very decision of their fate was made by other fellow human beings. From the silence, we called their names and those of our own loved ones that died there. Above us, crows circled and swooped.   “I came quite “not knowing” and plunged into one the most meaningful experiences in my life. I felt cared for, safe and guided through this week with enough flexibility to find my own pace. I felt as part of a compassionate community and I am deeply thankful for all these moments of deep humanity. ” – Retreat Participant   Day by day, we further revealed the layout of the camp and the schedule was marked by extended time for self reflection, private practice and exploration. We bore witness to moments of grief of soft lullabies in German, Hebrew and French and moments of celebration of life by songs in Arabic, Dutch and many other tongues. We heard from Yaser and Rabia, two Palestinian siblings, refugees from present-day war-torn Syria of their moments of despair and inspiration, of caring for family and friends, and joined them in the Al-Fatiha – the most essential Muslim prayer – in closing our final silent circle, kneeling palms up by the alter at the selection site. Their presence at the retreat anchored our experience in the present suffering of their people and many others around the world.   One afternoon, Bernie, wheeled by chair and surrounded by the participants, visited...

Learn More

Bernie Off to Poland

(in photo, Bernie exercising with Ari Setsudo Pliskin)   By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko, ZPO   Bernie goes off to Poland on Friday. Back in June, when he barely walked and had only just mastered the stairs, he began to say how much he wanted to join the November retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Zen Peacemakers’ 21st annual retreat at the concentration camps. To be honest, I thought it was pretty crazy. When we filled out questionnaires for the Taub Clinic in Alabama, one of the questions asked what specific and practical outcomes Bernie hoped for from their intensive therapy, and he asked me to write that he wished to go to the retreat in Poland. Again I thought it was pretty crazy. On Friday he’s going. Without me. There will be people accompanying him on the planes between Boston and Krakow, and someone with him the entire time he’s in Poland, not to mention some 80 other folks who’ll be happy to see him and do everything they can for him. He’s been practicing his walking outside on uneven terrain, as he’s doing with Ari in the photo. At the camps themselves he’ll need to use his wheelchair, and momentarily I think of one of the exhibits at the Auschwitz Museum showing the various canes and prosthetics the people arriving on the trains used. They were the very ones who were quickly ushered to extinction while the mechanical aids, seen as more valuable than the humans, were given a longer life. I wonder what he’ll think when he sees that exhibit. If he sees it. The Museum is not wheelchair accessible and it’s a lot of walking. Bernie will have to pace himself, see what he can do, how far he can go, how far he can let himself be from a bathroom. The camps are meant to be arduous. No drinking or eating is allowed inside those fences, and Birkenau itself is huge. But over the 21 years quite a number of people with some disability have joined this retreat. Since I’ve heard of his wish to go back there I’ve thought of the old scenario of human approaching the officer in elegant uniform and told whether to go right or left. I...

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Malgosia Roshi

   This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.     How to Distinguish Day from Night By Roshi Małgorzata Braunek (1947 – 2014) Photos courtesy of Roshi Andrzej Krajewski. Pictured above: Bernie, Jakusho Kwong Roshi, Małgorzata Roshi, Peter Matthiessen Roshi, Junyu Kuroda Roshi at Auschwitz-Birkenau   Bernie says that the places of pain and suffering are our greatest teachers. Therefore we went to Auschwitz – a symbol of the greatest evil that man has done to his like. Usually noticing the ubiquitous suffering around us does not mean that we are immersed in it. Rather, we train not to recognize it, because we are afraid that we can’t stand it. The first time I traveled to Auschwitz I just asked myself if I can face the fear, apart from that I did not know what would happen here. The most important was to understand that every thought to eliminate anything and anyone is the voice of the torturers slumbering in me. It turned out that I had such thinking as ‘eksterminujących’ (exterminate) in myself, and that there’s no end to it. For example, sweeping a container of liquid on ants, killing a mosquito or a fly. I think that is accompanied by: “Ugh, that’s awful! This must be eliminated! Dispose! Let them disappear!”; After all, this is the same way of thinking that was applied to the Jews, Gypsies, beggars, gay, to all those who were and are “different”; We see them as foreign, other, dirty (inside or outside), barbarians, worse than us – in a word, vermin disrupting our lives. They are useless, so they must be eliminated! The world would be better without them. The world knows this lesson very well … When I saw the executioner in myself for the first time, I kept crying a long while and could hardly stop again. The whole camp melted in my tears. When I sit on the ramp or in the barracks for hours, I touch suffering directly. Sure, we are sitting there in warm jackets, we know we’ll soon have something to eat… Sure I do not know about the cold back then, I don’t wear those thin striped uniforms. But this is not about historical reconstruction. It is important to listen to what...

Learn More

From War in Syria to Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

Story by Roshi Barbara Wegmüller, Switzerland, September 2016 My friend Rabia is an extremely courageous woman and I am happy to share my story of how we met. It was in 2006, only days before Beirut was bombed, and our friend Sami Awad from Bethlehem, Palestine, who is a Peacemaker, gave a talk against the planned war in Lebanon. He was invited to speak at a big peace demonstration in Bern the capital of Switzerland. The square was packed with people and I waited for him at the edge of the crowd. Small children with dark curly hair were playing right next to me, their mothers urging them to keep quiet. I was playing with the children and tried to have a conversation with the women. One of them spoke a little French and was desperately fumbling for words. She told me she had arrived in Berne the day before and I spontaneously handed her my business card saying that if she learnt to speak German we could communicate. Ten months later my phone rang and a female voice said, “this is Rabia speaking, I have learnt German and would like to speak with you.“ I immediately knew who it was and we arranged to meet for coffee and that’s how our friendship began. Rabia is from Palestine and her parents fled from there with small children. They travelled a long way through distant countries, from Yemen to Syria. The war in Syria made life for the extended family unbearable and with the help of Peacemaker Switzerland we could arrange to evacuate many members of the family and get them out of the war zone. We had the entire family stay with us for one week in our home. On the last evening Yazer told us his story. He had not eaten for 3 months, just some leaves to have something in his stomach. He had given his last ration of food to some hungry children. Yazer, the brother of Rabia, a young dentist arrived in Switzerland after a long ordeal and totally famished. What helped him to survive and safe his life was a film he had seen several years earlier by Steven Spielberg — “Schindler’s List“. In the film a few people had survived despite...

Learn More

Bernie Glassman to Join 2016 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

Bernie Glassman, after eight months of post-stroke recovery, is determined to attend the upcoming retreat in Poland in October 2016. In two conversations, one at the video above and another at the written interview below, he explains his motivation.  Bernie: Since the stroke, I have been mainly focusing on getting my mind and body back in shape. Not too long ago, it struck me that as I am right now—in terms I can walk, I’m still with a cane—I’m ready not just focusing on getting myself better, I’m ready to look out. And of course during this whole time I’ve had a lot of meditation, and a lot of space in which I could peer at things. But somehow the idea of Auschwitz came up, and I want to be there. I want to be there for the next retreat. And what also came up is Marian. Everybody who goes to Auschwitz goes one night to see Marian’s work, and hear his story. And that’s been happening since pretty much the beginning. He died a few years ago. But people still get to see his work, and hear his story. But for me the importance of his story—and it is amazing, I loved the man, amazing person . . . But what struck me, I think from the first time I met him—which I believe was the second retreat that we met him—was that I noticed that he wasn’t showing anger, or hatred. And he said, “How can you hate anybody? I have not hatred for any of the Capos, or Nazis. I don’t have hate for anybody.” Now for most people—and you have to remember that that’s why I started the Auschwitz Retreat, to learn how we can live with others without hate, without anger. Here was a man living that way. I hadn’t met people doing that. Everybody has somebody that they hate, they dislike. And in my relationship with him, he never showed me that side. So it was very important for me. And then he died. And a couple of years have passed. And I went through my stroke to remember this path that he had started in Auschwitz started fifty years after he was released from Auschwitz. And it was started because...

Learn More

Diversity Fundraiser, Auschwitz 2016

  Celebration of diversity has been a hallmark of the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats and in particular in Auschwitz-Birkenau, once a symbol of extreme intolerance towards others. Through the years the Zen Peacemakers hosted there countless nationalities, faith and ethnicities. In 2015, our large community collected donations to bring Lakota Native Americans, Croats, Bosniaks & Serbs, the indigenous of Australia and Palestine. Barbara and Roland Wegmueller of the Zen Peacemaker Order have been working with Syrian refugees for several years. Two of their friends, a brother and sister who had to flee Syria and are currently in asylum in Switzerland, would like to join the retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau this year. Their presence will connect the retreat and all its participants with the horrors of the present-day war in Syria and the excruciating difficulties encountered by those fleeing its shores. We are raising $5000 towards their retreat tuition, travel and lodging. Contribution in any amount will help us bring them there. Donation can be done online with Paypal or credit card at the link below, US checks can be sent to: Zen Peacemakers ATTN: Auschwitz Diversity Fundraiser 2016 POBOX 294 Montague MA. Zen Peacemakers, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization for your tax...

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Greg

 This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.   By Greg Rice, USA   This last November I quit fishing early to attend the annual Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz, Poland. After an all-day flight, I arrived at the hotel in Kraków after dark, tired and unsure of what I was doing there. Within minutes I was invited to dinner with a group of other participants. I felt welcomed in as part of this retreat immediately, and my doubts vanished… In the big changing room of the “sauna” was a display of thousands of photos collected by the guards as they stripped the prisoners of their lives. Sitting in that room, we sang a simple song, the first line of which was “how could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful”. We all sang, in this dreadful room, first looking each other in the eyes, then at the beautiful pictures of happy children, of lovers, of grandmothers. Pictures taken in a time in their lives when they were happy, a time in their lives like this time in ours. And then they experienced what no living being should ever experience. It broke my heart, walking slowly through these walls of photos, singing “how could anyone see you as anything less than beautiful.” How could they? One day, as we stood in a circle around the blown-up remains of Crematorium chamber IV, we all read the Kaddish in our native tongue. It was read in at least eight different languages. At the end, Reb Shir blew on the Shofar – the ram’s horn. It was the first time I had ever heard it. The sound brought tears to my eyes. It seemed a strong and ancient call to the world, to the ashes, to all that keeps us separate. It was a voice saying we are still here, we will always be here, all of us. It was the sound of perseverance and inclusiveness. To me, a secular guy, the sound of that Shofar was Holy. There is a teaching that says, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha. What needs to be killed is the sense of truth, of knowing, the root of this separateness that keeps us apart. It...

Learn More

ENLARGING THE SCOPE, PART 1: START WITH THE LIVING

In light of present day intolerance, violence, ethnic cleansing and genocides around the world, Bernie Glassman encourages us to enlarge the scope of our practice of bearing witness. Read the interview below and consider joining the Zen Peacemakers in November for our 22nd return to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Iris

(Iris, on right, during 2013 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat)  This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.   By Iris Katz, Israel It was in November 2010. It was my first time in the Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz. Three months before I have visited Bernie in Montague, USA. He had been telling me about the retreat, I told him that I had never been to Auschwitz. I used to have my own fears which prevented me to go there. They were connected to all that I have known about Auschwitz. Bernie convinced me to go. I went. I had “my” two tenets to follow: Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness. The first one was very important for me. Forgetting all I knew, all that had made me afraid and horrified of the Holocaust and its Jewish victims that for me was the main issue about Auschwitz till then. Not-Knowing helped me to go, to be there and to bear witness with some sort of empty mind. Many experiences and few transformations were the outcome of my first retreat in Auschwitz. But one of these experiences changed my life. This one was connected to Ihab, the Israeli-Palestinian from the city of Jaffa, Israel. Ihab, my husband Tani and I became close friends during the retreat. We felt like cousins (which we are, mythologically) or friends who grew up together since childhood, many years back. We speak the same language, share the same history, and have the same background and ideas. I mean, I felt close or oneness with many people in the group. I felt close to psychologists or therapists, for example. I felt close to the victims and I even could feel their guards who had been “sharing” their lives on that place. But with Ihab it was different. We had our jokes, our joint stories, our small idiosyncratic talks, our combined ideas. But … I was an Israeli, a Jewish Israeli, and Ihab was Israeli as well, but “Arab” Israeli, as we keep saying in my country, or Palestinian Israeli, as “they” keep saying in my country. “They,” that is the “Arabs” in Israel. It was a painful recognition to reflect on that in Auschwitz Ihab and myself were equals, close, just the same people, having different religions...

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Roshi Joan

 This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996. By Roshi Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA Photos by Peter Cunningham   The suffering that we touched during our retreat at times led us into darkness and sometimes transformed into joy and healing as we sat and practiced together and heard one another. I remember Bernie’s old buddy Peter Matthiessen asking: How could one feel joy in such a place? Bearing witness is not only about bearing witness to one's own life but also to all of life. And it was here at Auschwitz that we bore witness to the suffering of others, to the suffering of ancestors, to our own suffering, and to the possibility of the transformation of suffering. Peter was astounded by the release he experienced at Auschwitz, and so were all of us. One of the ways that I have practiced bearing witness has been in the experience of Council, a practice where people sit in circle with each other and speak clearly and listen deeply. Council at Auschwitz was a way for us to communicate about the deepest issues of our lives, including suffering, death, and grief as well as meaning, healing and joy. Council was indeed one of the deepest ways that we taught each other during the retreat. Council is found in many cultures and traditions over the world. There is reference to it in Homer’s Iliad. One finds it in the tribal world of earth cherishing peoples. And, of course, it is a key strategy of communion and communication in the tradition of the Quakers, who so influenced the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, I and others brought what we had learned in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement to our lives as teachers and people who were involved with social action and spiritual practice. Council, or the Circle of Truth, or whatever we called it then became a way for us to incorporate democratic and spiritual values into our collective and individual lives. In the mid-90’s, I introduced the Council process to Bernie and Jishu Holmes. It fit so well with their work as peacemakers, and they brought it to many places, including...

Learn More

Resonance is Everywhere

  By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko Photo of Grandmother Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance (left) by Peter Cunningham Originally appeared on Eve’s blog on 7/6/2016     The Facebook page for the Bearing Witness visit to Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota during the last week of this month has been closed, made accessible only to those people who have confirmed they’re participating. I’m not one of them, but I am very happy that a substantial group is going, and I just put a Comment on that page asking them to build a foundation for future visits and work so that I, too, can come next time. It’s our second time returning to South Dakota. These plunges, projects, visits, pilgrimages, however we refer to them—all call me. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Srebrenica in Bosnia, refugee camps in Piraeus, these places summon me. It is no accident that in Judaism, one of the names of God is Place. And She, He, the unknown, is most palpably present for me in these Places, maybe because we walk around there and shake our heads, muttering Inconceivable, inconceivable, all the time. Right now I feel most called to go to South Dakota. Why? Because I’m an American, and all my doubts (What is this? How could this happen? What’s still going on?) surface there. Where there’s doubt, there’s the unknown. In early May Mariola Wereszka and Godfried De Waele, who have so kindly and generously helped Bernie and me these past months, went back to Europe. Mariola joined a group of German women at the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women in Germany, while Godfried went to Greece to visit with refugees landing there day after day. When they returned they talked about how the two visits are connected, how to this very day Europeans make pilgrimages to places associated with World War II because they remind them of what people can do to each other out of fear and rage, which come up now, too, in connection with the refugees from Africa and Asia. We need to do that here in the US, go to our own places of trauma and reconnect with the things we as a nation have done. What eats at our foundation? What is the rotten piece that won’t...

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Fr. Manfred

 This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from participants of the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.   BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS Manfred Deselaers, Germany/Poland (In photo, first on left)   I live in Oświęcim since 1990, in the Catholic Community Mariae Himmelfahrt, and since 1995 I work as a minister for the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer (CDiM). From the beginning on I was aware of the [Zen] Peacemaker Retreats, from a big distance at first. In the nineties, I heard from priest Piotr Wrona, director of the CDiM at that time, that an American international Buddhist inter-religious group with Jewish roots (or something like that, I don’t remember exactly) was planning and conducting contemplative days in Auschwitz. I had no idea what that meant. Then coincidental meetings happened, conversations in between, invitations and then, eventually, at some point the request to take over the role of a Christian Spirit Holder. Later I often said that for me, the Peacemaker Retreats belong to the most important events in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Why? There are few groups, which listen so intensively to “the voice of this ground”. Sightseeing – yes, of course. Meetings with contemporary witnesses, too. But sitting in silence on the tracks, from time to time chanting the names of those who were murdered… feeling the space while meditating, becoming aware of the many different dimensions in different spots of the camp site… this is such an intense offering to take this place and its victims (and even its offenders) seriously that even former inmates came back to participate. I also learned a lot from the method of Silent Sharing. Mornings in small groups, evenings in bigger groups. It’s not the lectures that account for the atmosphere, it’s the respectful listening to the inner wealth everyone brings in. “Auschwitz” – that was the annihilation of others. Nearly none of all the groups coming to Auschwitz these days is bringing together different nations, biographies, faiths and religions so intentionally. The healing of broken identities and broken relationships belongs together, there is no other way, I’m convinced of that. New trust comes from honest listening to each other. For that, it needs a safe space, allowing for trust. That is what this retreat offers. I’m a Catholic priest, not a Jew, not a Buddhist. This means, I...

Learn More

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Damian

 This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” – reflections from participants of the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats.   WORLDS OPENING, INSIDE AND OUTSIDE By Damian Dudkievich, Poland/ Great Britain (in photo, third from right)   […] I don’t remember exactly how often I participated, I think it might be over ten times. My first retreat happened in 1999, I was the youngest participant at that year, aged 18. I had not been to Auschwitz-Birkenau before. As a Polish person, I learned about it at school, I saw programs on TV, read in history books, but never went there. A few months before the Retreat I had watched a short film done by a Polish director, Andrzej Titkov, about that event, and something deep down in my soul was calling me to go there. It became one of the most significant experiences I had in my life. The entire experience of this Bearing Witness Retreat was a big plunge for me into the history and energy of that place … into the known, and into the unknown. […] Asking myself what this retreat brought into my life, I say: it connected me with worlds inside and outside. On the outside, I met lots of people from all over the planet, I experienced the oneness of differences … People from many countries, traditions, languages, cultures, sexual orientations, skin colors etc. in one place – that was a mind-opener for me. I started to learn English, and since 2008 I live in London. On the inside, the Retreat was a journey into my own sorrow, my own suffering, and I was able to connect with it. I met my own inner victim and also an oppressor, and it was possible to bring the lessons I learned into my daily life.   This excerpt from Damain’s reflection appears in full in the book “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015) Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski, in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en   Register or Learn more about the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat in...

Learn More

My Chat with 8th Graders on Auschwitz

  MY CHAT WITH 8TH GRADERS ON AUSCHWITZ By Noemi Koji Santana For the past 15 years, I have been involved in one capacity or another with a small cluster of community-grown charter schools in the Bronx, New York. I served on their founding Board of Trustees and later, in my capacity as consultant, helped develop their business office, lead them in a strategic planning process that set the foundation for their network administration, as well as managing their rebranding. Through all of this, I have seen them grow from a Kindergarten to fifth grade school to three schools that will eventually all be K through 8th grade. The student body is comprised largely of inner-city Latino children, from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico Honduras and other Central and South American countries. There is also a growing number of new African immigrants. The rigorous curriculum has increased the chances for success for many of these children, as they graduate and find themselves in some of the best high schools of the City of New York. Because the schools are small with only two classes per each grade and also due to low to no attrition, we get to follow these students from Kinder through graduation. Students many times refer to me as the picture lady since I am often called upon to record school life and events with my camera. I also get to dialogue with faculty in their professional development room or during lunch breaks. It was one such occasion that created a unique opportunity for me to be a guest speaker for an eighth grade class, recently. The Social Studies teacher, a young, warm, funny and vivacious first-generation Dominican who can often be found in the gym during recess playing basketball with his students, was talking to me about the unit on the Holocaust he was currently teaching and I mentioned the fact that I had been to Auschwitz four times. His eyes lit up and it didn’t take but a minute for him to extend an invitation for me to speak to one of his classes about my experience. Their letters reflect the chat better than anything I could say.   Noemi Koji Santana     Dear Mrs. Santana, Thank you for...

Learn More

“What Shall I Sing to You?” Video Interview with Bernie Glassman and Krishna Das

Bernie Glassman and Krishna Das met soon after the 2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills and shared about the practice of Bearing Witness and their personal experiences of the retreats in South Dakota USA and in Auschwitz/Birkenau Poland. Watch the video in full below or read the transcription of the interview here. Interview videotaped and edited by Rami Efal, video of Krishna Das performing in Auschwitz/Birkenau by Ohad...

Learn More

“ONE HOOP, WIDE AS DAYLIGHT”

“ONE HOOP, BROAD AS DAYLIGHT” by CHAS JEWETT I had wondered aloud several times about what kind of crazy white folks were wanting to bear witness to our people’s genocide. The folks from the Wantabe nation are pretty clueless, well meaning maybe but clueless, this could be dangerous, I was skeptical. The genocide of my people, the Mnicoujou is ongoing:  the mascots, the boarding schools, the textbooks, the incarceration, the whiskey, the meth, the white flour, the white sugar, the treaties, the land. Genocide like ecocide are words to me that hold breath taking unspeakable meaning. I had gone to visit the rainbow tribe a month earlier, their coming was with much fanfare and some segments of our tribal community in the black hills mistrusted their intentions. I was unsure, so I went to investigate and on the road to the camp I saw a couple of kids from my UU fellowship running barefoot and fancy free, when I arrived they fed me pancakes and I sat for a while in their drum circle.  I left, not needing to linger, they were respectful to the land, they seemed genuinely happy, mostly self-interested I suppose, had I been ten years younger, I might have camped and become engaged, but I was chockful of engagement with white folks, there was nothing for me to learn besides, my dog Luta was geriatric, and I had been having to leave her more and more, I wanted to get back to her. Later on that summer, investigating again, I came in the first afternoon while most everyone but Tiokosin and Jadina were touring Pine Ridge, you folks had a bigger tent, a tipi and looked a little more ligit than the hippies, but I had no real way to know you folks weren’t going to be donning regalia and dancing around said tipi, so I came back the next day. I was still so curious to see what bearing witness looked like.    The first day, I learned some stuff and met some people, so the next morning, Luta secured at her second home, I came back with my tent and began my relationship with the Zen peacemakers.  I stayed all week, soaking in the good vibes and the honest,...

Learn More

Join the Zen Peacemakers in Auschwitz/Birkenau, October 2016

  JOIN THE ZEN PEACEMAKERS FOR THE 21st RETURN TO THE CAMP OF AUSCHWITZ/BIRKENAU “What could Auschwitz— this place oceans-deep with death and the source of so much fear-turned-hate in the hearts of people I deeply love— possibly teach me about living a full, beautiful, wise, compassionate life?” – Kineret Yardena. Participant of 2015 retreat. REGISTER AND READ MORE ABOUT THE RETREAT Still Poem by Wisława Szymborska (Polish poet and recipient of Nobel Prize in literature) In sealed box cars travel names across the land, and how far they will travel so, and will they ever get out, don’t ask, I won’t say, I don’t know. The name Nathan strikes fist against wall, the name Isaac, demented, sings, the name Sarah calls out for water for the name Aaron that’s dying of thirst. Don’t jump while it’s moving, name David. You’re a name that dooms to defeat, given to no one, and homeless, too heavy to bear in this land. Let your son have a Slavic name, for here they count hairs on the head, for here they tell good from evil by names and by eyelids’ shape. Don’t jump while it’s moving. Your son will be Lech. Don’t jump while it’s moving. Not time yet. Don’t jump. The night echoes like laughter mocking clatter of wheels upon tracks. A cloud made of people moved over the land, a big cloud gives a small rain, one tear, a small rain-one tear, a dry season. Tracks lead off into black forest. Cor-rect, cor-rect clicks the wheel. Gladeless forest. Cor-rect, cor-rect. Through the forest a convoy of clamors. Cor-rect, cor-rect. Awakened in the night I hear cor-rect, cor-rect, crash of silence on silence. (translated by Magnus J....

Learn More

Join Our Bearing Witness Programs in 2016

JOIN OUR BEARING WITNESS PROGRAMS IN 2016 “In the old Buddhist traditions in India and Tibet they had what they called charnel practices where you would go to the cemeteries and sit with the spirits that are coming in. It’s a very similar thing [to Bearing Witness Retreats] and a way of dealing with our own insecurity, our own fears, our own wanting to be ignorant of certain things and not really grasping that that means that we are not connecting to all that which is us. We are all one, we are all interconnected.” – Roshi Bernie Glassman For twenty years, the Zen Peacemakers, founded by Zen Teacher Bernie Glassman, created Bearing Witness Retreats in places of deep suffering around the world, such as in the Black Hills, Rwanda and in Auschwitz, where this retreat has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. These retreats are open and all-inclusive, crafted in intention to bear witness to suffering and to heal by bringing together as many, often estranged, constituencies as possible.   AUSCHWITZ/BIRKENAU BEARING WITNESS RETREAT OCT 31-NOV 4 2016 “I felt tormented…Bearing witness in Auschwitz, I am no longer alone with my ardent longing for peace.” – M.W. (Retreat Participant, Germany) This year, the Zen Peacemakers will return for the 21st year to the old site of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oświęcim, Poland, for a Bearing Witness Retreat, a decades-long process of leaping into Not-Knowing where so much knowing is stored in suffering. Last year, the 20th Anniversary return to the camp was marked by 130 participants from over twenty nationalities, including Gaza, Palestine, the Lakota Nation of Turtle Island and Kalkadoon & Kiwai Nations of Papua New Guinea and Australia. Muslim, Jewish, Lakota, Buddhist and Christian spiritual ceremonies celebrated the diversity of faiths present. LEARN MORE ABOUT 2016 AUSCHWITZ RETREAT NATIVE AMERICAN BEARING WITNESS RETREAT, JUL 25-29 2016 “Individuals bearing witness […] can break a corrosive and demoralizing silence.” – C.H. (Retreat Participant, Lakota, Turtle Island) In 2015, the Lakota Nation and Zen Peacemakers conducted the first Native American Bearing Witness retreat in South Dakota. It hosted over 180 people from over a dozen countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia who came to the Black Hills to bear witness to the land and to individuals from the Shawnee/Lenape, Tohono O’odham, Navajo, Mohawk, Lakota and Dakota nations about first-hand accounts of intergenerational trauma,...

Learn More

“What Should I Sing To You?”

“What Should I Sing To You?”   Conversation with Krishna Das and Bernie Glassman Transcribed from a recording at Bernie’s house in Montague, MA USA, 9/21/2015     BERNIE: So we all talk about the interconnectedness of life, the oneness of life, but if we look carefully at ourselves and see how many aspects of life we shy away from or won’t come in contact, and then try to figure why. I think the biggest reason is fear. So that’s how these Bearing Witness retreats… Well, I don’t know if they started because of that, but that’s where the large numbers started. KD: I had a lot of fear before my first retreat, “How am I going to deal with this?” Just the fear of going, being in that place where so much suffering happened and so much torture and so much inhumanity was manifest. So I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me, you know. So just to go and go through the process and the practice of being in the camp at that time was] very freeing from that fear that I had. Just not that simple. And then to be talking about fear, how much fear there must have been in the camp at the time of the war. The atmosphere was extraordinary. BERNIE: We were just together in South Dakota, in the Black Hills and we met with the Lakota folks. And the fear, the elders went to boarding schools ran by Church, Catholic Church, and the fear that must have existed there, because if they spoke any Lakota they were beaten up, if they wore any traditional clothes they were beaten up. In that school there is a track where people run around and underneath that there’s graves of children that died there. So they had a reason to be afraid, but that fear permeates everywhere. The other reason for these Bearing Witness retreats is our ignorance, which I think that is with most of the non-Native Indians that came, they] had no idea of what went on in their own country, of what we did. KD: And are still doing.     BERNIE: And are still doing. And why we have these ignorant things? Again,...

Learn More

Bernie’s Training: Bearing Witness

(Pictured above right to left: Michael O’keefe, Peter Matthiessen, Siddiq Powell, Bernie, Alisa and Mark Glassman,(Bernie’s children), Brendan Breen. Auschwitz/Birkenau 1996)   Bernie’s Training: Bearing Witness By Bernie Glassman Photographs by Peter Cunningham   (Continued from Bernie’s Training: Social Engagement)  I had a student that many of you probably know, named Claude AnShin Thomas. And when I met him he had already been pretty heavily involved with Thich Nhat Hanh. He had been in the Vietnam War. He had had a mental breakdown. He was a very confused person. He couldn’t sleep at night, you know. He’d be kept up by the bombs, and all kinds of things. He had been a tailgate gunner on a helicopter, shooting people. And then he had a nervous breakdown. At any rate, he came to me wanting to know if he could ordain with me, and be my student. And for many different reasons I agreed. And it turned out that he was soon going to be involved in a walk. He did a lot of walking. His practice was walking. He walked across Europe. He walked all over. And very soon—maybe a year, I can’t remember the timing—he was going to join a bunch of Buddhist monks who chant the Lotus Sutra while marching and beat a drum, and chant— as they walk. Their practice is walking and social engagement. So somebody here was confused about Japanese maybe not being involved in social engagement—their leader, sort of a Gandhi kind of guy in Japan told them if they weren’t in jail half of the year, they weren’t being a good monk. They had to do resistance. That was part of their practice, and walking. So they were planning a walk from Auschwitz to Hiroshima—through all of the war-torn countries. And AnShin had decided to join them. So I said that I would go with him to Auschwitz, and give him Precepts, as a layperson. And I would do that at Auschwitz. And then I would join to the last month of that walk, and ordain him as a Priest at the helicopter site where he was stationed in Vietnam. And it turned out there was an interfaith conference being held at Auschwitz, in regards to this walk. And so...

Learn More

The Gypsy Girl

    The Gypsy Girl   By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko Drawing by Manfred Bockelmann   On the window ledge behind my altar is a charcoal drawing of a Gypsy girl who was killed at Auschwitz/Birkenau, done by the Austrian artist, Manfred Bockelmann. For the past ten years Bockelmann has done charcoal drawings of children and young people killed by the Nazis from photos taken by the SS (http://manfred-bockelmann.de/arbeiten/zeichnungen/zeichnen-gegen-das-vergessen/). The photo was given me by a participant at the Auschwitz retreat that took place in early November. The girl seems to be around 10, dark, fringed hair parted down the middle and waving down the sides almost to her chin. Short, dark, upraised eyebrows under a high forehead. Eyes slightly slanted, pupils high and penetrating, the corners of her small lips turned down. A blouse with a V-shape collar, and what looks like a beaded necklace from which something dangles below the bottom edge of the picture. I’ve looked at this drawing every day since coming home, at the round face and pale, defenseless skin below her neck, and mostly the eyes that seem to call out with some kind of plea: To be remembered? Understood? Loved? Are they asking me to bear witness to what happened to Gypsy girls like her, to the starvation and exposure, their terror and despair? Recently I read about Settela Steinbach, who was murdered along with her mother and 9 siblings at Auschwitz. Do I bear witness to the scale of such atrocities each time I look at the Gypsy girl’s face? Or does that face become a catch-all for my own confusions and fears, my own dread of being blown away one unexpected, disastrous day?    Learn more about and register to the 2016 Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat here.       Our last day at Birkenau is always Friday; having been there for four days, we arrive like old hands. Our routine, too, feels like a daily practice. I go through the familiar gate and down the tracks to the shed housing our equipment, pick up a chair, bench, cushion, or mat, and continue down the tracks to the site where they once did selections of who’d die right away and who’d die later. People offer...

Learn More

Book: “Pearls of Ash & Awe” & 21st Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & the Zen Peacemakers In 1996, Zen Master Bernie Glassman went to bear witness at Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first time – together with 150 other people from ten nations. Ever since, peacemakers from many cultures and religions all over the world have joined this retreat each year. In the infamous place where the mechanized murder of more than a million people took place, participants not only encountered the horrors of the past but also explored the limits of their own humanity, examining how they themselves deal with the “Other”. For many, it was an inter-faith “plunge” that pierced deeply and transformed their lives. This book compiles the testimonies of more than 70 participants over the two decade span of the retreat. Those who wish not just to comprehend the events of the Holocaust, but also to confront its challenges to spirit and heart, will find themselves moved and inspired by these honest stories. They encourage all of us to open up and expand our understanding of what humanity truly is and can be. Edited by Kathleen Battke (D). Inspired and co-edited by Ginni Stern (USA) and Andrzej Krajewski (PL) Bilingual Edition: English-German Hardcover, ca. 300 pages, ISBN 978-3-942085-47-2 Ebook (ePub) ISBN 978-3-942085-50-2 Order the book on : https://www.janando.de/steinrich/en In 2016, enter and listen at Auschwitz yourself in the 21st Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness rereat Oct 31-Nov 4 Learn more about the purpose, planning and staffing of the ZPO Bearing Witness Retreats...

Learn More

Personal Reflections by Eve Marko on the Nov 2014 Retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Thursday night was our usual night at the barracks. On this evening before Friday, the last day of the retreat, it’s customary for us to return to Birkenau in the darkness and sit in one of the barracks by candle and flashlight. Years ago some of these vigils lasted till midnight and even all the way till morning. As we arrived at the main brick gate through which the train tracks tubed into the camp and directly to the sites of the crematoria, we went upstairs to the guard tower built above the gate. Here, looking out over their machine guns, SS guards enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of men, women, and children stumbling down from train cars that had been their prisons for days and even weeks, with no food or water, pushed and prodded by other guards with clubs and snarling dogs in the direction of the extermination sites. This has always been a chilling spot, inviting us to bear witness to guards with a panoramic view of the terror and suffering below, drinking coffee, laughing, complaining about the hard work and bad weather, gossiping, wishing the shift would end. Somewhere in that scene many of us could find ourselves, preoccupied by our own problems and our own lives, fitting with more or less ease into a system we may bemoan but won’t violate. We then walked single-file to the barrack, where Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi invited us to look closer at perpetrators and victims. He especially invited the German participants to talk about their lives and families, their parents and grandparents who went through the war. Stories were related about depression, guilt, silence, denial, and the quiet violence that goes along with keeping secrets. I was moved to hear them. But I felt frustration as well, not with the stories but with the heavy, mechanistic view that if we can understand the past we’ll be able to change the present and future. The Dalai Lama has said that karma is a subtle thing. In my understanding, it has dimensions that are so vast and numberless they are practically unknowable. We are given tours by well-trained guides who provide numbers, data, and facts, but can’t explain the effects of the Auschwitz genocide on the...

Learn More

Reflections by Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit on His Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat

I  checked into our hotel right near Rynek Główny, the ancient and vast Main Square of Kraków. I had about an hour to settle in, change some currency, then walk to Cafe Młynek in the old Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz where I led a short and sweet Kabbalat Shabbat with my new sister, Yiddish singer Marsha Gildin. Our training began Saturday. The Center for Council’s compassionate and wise Director Jared Seide guided us masterfully and gently into this deep and transformative practice, which has been developed by Joan Halifax, Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle and others over the past two decades. Sunday we returned to Kazimeirz for a guided walking tour of old Jewish Kraków. I led some prayers in the synagogue of the Rema. We sang Shlomo Carlebach’s Kraków Niggun at the fragment of the wall of the ghetto; it was Reb Shlomo’s twentieth yahrtzeit. Schindler’s Factory Museum drives the story home. There is so much left in the little that remains. Buses took us to Oświęcim, the town formerly called Ushpitzin in Yiddish and Auschwitz in German, early on Monday morning. Following the first tenet of the Zen Peacemaker’s Order of Not-Knowing, I really went into there retreat having done no research, no homework. The first most surprising details: Auschwitz was much smaller that I’d imagined; Birkenau was exceedingly vast; and both sites are very busy with tour groups. I want to urge you to register for the 2015 Bearing Witness at Auschwitz-Birkenau retreat now. I will be there as the Rabbi for the Retreat. Dozens of other spirit-holders will be there, guiding a brilliantly crafted encounter with one of the most important places in modern human history. The place is a teacher and if you have even the smallest inkling to join, I unflinchingly encourage you to go. Going into the retreat without preconceived notions was an incredible gift. It makes me want to stop writing now, and to again encourage you to register. There are already 45 people signed-up for 2015 and the retreat will be capped at...

Learn More

Auschwitz II — Zen Peacemakers' retreat, June 2010, from Jiko

I did not go to Auschwitz to find out what happened there, nor to understand the worst that the human mind can do. Nor did I go in sympathy with the suffering of the Jews and others killed and tortured there. The only reason to go was to discover to what my own heart and mind could open from staying with such a dire, unbearable, and unfathomable event. I asked how the potential or actuality of what produced Auschwitz, is present and manifesting in my life? Can this experience help me learn and connect with my own humanness, help me in choosing love/identity as the only motivation for action in my life? We are taught in many religions that there is a “peace that surpasseth all understanding,” the stillness at the center of the storm, the great wisdom in which the small discomforts that can absorb our days and our energies are as nothing in the grand functioning of the cosmos, in the mightiness of God, or the cosmic void. What we experience is never personal — only our self-protective responses make it seem so. For the first three days at Auschwitz I was uncomfortable at hearing, seeing all the horror, viewing reconstructed, imagined lives of Jewish communities before the holocaust, and imagining the dislocation and cruelty of their precipitous deaths without dignity, the removal of their freedoms in the grossest of ways. I tried to imagine the mind that could be unmoved while doing such terrible actions. I was wondering if my being relatively unperturbed in the midst of all this came out of such a mind, unable to connect, distant and cold. Or was it acceptance of the human condition? My thoughts considered that I have studied old age, sickness and death intimately and deeply over quite a few years. We will all die, and death does not look too bad — my own near death experiences have felt like release and enfolding rather than fearful deprivations. Many of us die prematurely. Many of us suffer sickness and pain. Many of us, our lives and our passionate, loving dedication of sustained effort, are abused and misused. We lose hope, we lose our loved ones, our children, our countries, homes, possessions, and our...

Learn More

Beyond — Zen Peacemaker retreat at Auschwitz June 2 to June 12, 2010

The setting is beautiful, walking to Birkenau in the early morning. The sun is already bright and very hot. In the flat narrow fields striped with different greens, heads of grain grow and glisten, stirring in the sweet earth-scented breeze along with blue cornflowers and red poppies. Hay has been scythed and is being tossed by the pitchforks of bare-chested farmers, or swept into loose beehive shaped stacks. Morning doves call, and cuckoos repeat — just like the wooden bird popping out of its little carved clock house over the antipodean dinner table of my 1940s childhood. Icy shivers chill my spine and freeze my stride even before my mind registers the watchtowers and barbed wire enclosures – the endless ordered ranks of barracks and chimneys that appear over the fields. Too vast, too determined, they speak of an intent that is intolerable in its horror – the calculated efficiency of terrorizing, torturing, humiliating, degrading, murdering and annihilating 1.1 million children, women, and men of many kinds, nations, and faiths. Along with them were destroyed the humanity of the SS guards – the humanity that is the one quality giving value to our human life. Yet, over a few short days, Birkenhau was to become a place of such tender love, joy, and affirmation of spirit that it was incredibly hard to leave. It seemed at first that I felt only shallowly my own and others’ pain here, and yet I cried out in agony of spirit — with, and as, both victim and perpetrator. From that cry was released a love for each particular person encountered here, now, and for those from the past. For a brief moment I glimpsed how deep is our oneness in this glorious endeavor of apparent embodiment we call life, with all its capacity for joy, and its suffering from separation. This retreat at Auschwitz with Zen Peacemakers offered profound affirmation that when we continue to listen to ourselves and others with an open mind and heart, death and pain of body and spirit, however terrible, can never offer a final answer. And this truth exists even while such horrendous events seem beyond the realm of forgiveness and far beyond any possibility of consolation. So what is the...

Learn More

Bernie Q7: How Do You Train Students To Enter The Center Of Suffering?

Questions by Christa Spannbaur Recorded at Rowe Conference Center by Ari Pliskin Zen Master Bernie Glassman Biography 7) How do you train your students to be able to go right into the centre of the suffering of the world without loosing their spiritual trust in life and their inner balance? Hotei has the right things in the bag.   You fill the bag with as many tools as you can.  Then you approach each situation, unbiased, unconditioned and totally open.  There are tools or upayas that will help us realize the three tenets.  For me, meditation was a great helping in getting to not-knowing.  I know many people who have reached not-knowing without meditation.  What has been more important is what I call ‘plunges.’  A plunge is to take you into a situation in which your rational mind has no way of dealing with it.  Normally, we don’t go there.  A common plunge that many of us go through is the death of a loved one.  Others are the Auscwitz retreats or street retreats. Planning the first Auscwitz retreat took 1.5 years.  The idea of the first day is to overwhelm people’s senses.  Bearing witness is to stay there-be in that situation, feel...

Learn More

Audio podcast: A Jew in Germany, insights from Auschwitz

Sensei Beate Stolte and Natalie Goldberg recently attended a Zen retreat at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Natalie is Jewish and Stolte grew up in Germany; both share intimate stories and insights from their experience at the retreat. Discussion transpired about the human capacity for genocide, and the concepts of embracing fear and darkness, and creating meaning in one’s circumstances.  Listen to the podcast from Upaya Zen...

Learn More

Dispatch from the Train to Auschwitz

“My choice to travel by train in Poland is intentional. It is part of my pilgrimage here. I am mindfully aware that this rail track from Warsaw to Krakow, on which i now ride in comfort and in a bright and sun-filled rail car, is like the very route so many traveled to their deaths a mere generation ago. I hold them all in my heart” -Michael Melancon a few weeks ago leading up to the retreat read the entire article at Maia Duerr’s Jizo...

Learn More

Reflections on last week's Auschwitz Bearing Witness by Fleet Maull

June/24/2010 Today we completed the fourth day of the Zen Peacemaker bearing witness retreat here at Auschwitz & Birkenau. This is my eighth retreat here, and I’ll be back in November to help guide another bearing witness retreat for Palistininian and Jewish youth from Israel as well as youth from other countries. In past years I have written and shared daily reports, more recently in the form of blogs, each day of the retreat. This year I have not been inspired to do so up until now. Perhaps I’m just too full, having co-lead our first Peacemaker Institute bearing witness retreat in Rwanda this past April. Perhaps it is the overwhelming size of this retreat. We are 155 strong this year, participants and staff, much, much larger than usual, with the exception of the very first Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat in 1996. At any rate, as we sat in one of the barracks at Birkenau this evening,barracks originally designed as stables for 50 horses that held four hundred death camp inmates, listening each other as we shared our experience, hearts and minds in council (a deep listening circle or talking stick circle), I suddenly realized that I need to share something of this retreat with all of you. We have followed the usual format, beginning with a deep plunge at Auschwitz I, where we watched incredibly graphic films recording the horrific truth of the Nazi genocide as the camps were liberated at the end of the war and then stepped out from the darkened theatre into the sunlit reality of the concentration camp. We toured the barracks and many exhibits with professional guides, splitting into five groups of 30. We gathered again as, 155 strong, inside the gas chamber at Auschwitz I, where we stood in silence, filling half the chamber shoulder to shoulder where 300 were gassed at on time. We proceeded to the infamous killing wall between Blocks 10 and 11. Block 11 was the SS punishment barracks where any form of resistance or misbehavior in the camps was punished to the extreme… torture, starvation, poisoning, and executions by gunfire at the killing wall. There we held our first interfaith service with Jewish, Christian and Buddhist services and the offering of candles...

Learn More

Q10: How Can We Deal with the Dehumanizing Aspect in Ourselves?

10) In an interview that you gave in Auschwitz you said: “There is a part of us that allows us to dehumanize people. It’s an aspect of ourselves that we don’t want to touch. Auschwitz is the world-monument of that aspect of ourselves.” How can we deal with this aspect in us so that it doesn’t cause so much harm in the world? The first way to deal with this aspect is to remember.  “Re-membering” as the opposite of dismembering – putting back together what’s been taken apart.  After the 8th year of remembering victims, Heinz-Jürgen Metzger, the coordinator of Peacemaker work in Europe said it was time to start remembering the perpetrators.  Heinz’s uncle was castrated because he wouldn’t do the work of the SS.  Heinz didn’t learn about this for 25 years because his family was disgraced because his uncle wouldn’t comply.  When Heinz proposed remembering the perpetrators, about half the participants were ready to leave. I brought up the issue of remembering and honoring the perpetrators at a later retreat, which was very difficult.  Honor means we site their name, like we do for those who died there.  The goal was to change from just blaming and hating the perpetrators to get into what was going on- to change the mode.  So we did a ceremony in guards tower, where each person honors a time when they were a perpetrator or someone was a perpetrator to them.   How far can you go in this remembering?  If this is one world, and the point is to re-member the whole world, where do you stop?  That’s where your practice has to be. To go into the spaces of what the perpetrators went to and what happened after- many committed suicide. Another way is to recognize who we exclude and invite them in.  The most common way of dealing with outsiders to our club is to avoid them.  At the worst, there is Auschwitz, war, lynching, imprisonment, gay bashing. I’m a Democrat.  I’ve never voted Republican.  I will talk with Republicans and invite them to my house.  I can’t get angry at people outside my club.  I don’t like their viewpoint, but I’m not going to be angry at the guy for having it. ...

Learn More